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Another Hidden Enemy in Iraq

THERE ARE SO MANY threats in Iraq that it’s hard to know where to start: foreign jihadists, Shiite radicals, Baath party loyalists, and garden-variety criminals, to name a few. Add one unexpected threat to that list: private security providers. The U.S. Government Accountability Office has warned that the lack of criminal-background data on prospective private security personnel puts U.S. military forces and Iraqi civilians at risk.

The threat is mainly from Iraqi and third-country personnel, testified William Solis, GAO’s director of defense capabilities and management, before the House Committee on Government Reform’s Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations.

Searches of public records, which work well in the United States, are less fruitful as screening methods of non-U.S. applicants, Solis said, because of the lack of reliable information. In Iraq, even basic criminal records are often nonexistent or unavailable. Also, security companies rely on candidates to supply accurate data, such as prior addresses, and privacy laws limit what information can be gathered.

In addition, a program by the Defense Department to biometrically screen all private security employees suffers from a dearth of international and foreign databases with which to compare the data, Solis testified.

U.S. nationals also pose a threat, Solis said, because screening using U.S. databases is far from perfect. For example, commercial databases often contain outdated information, and not all state courts report crimes to their state repositories.

In his testimony, Solis also discussed issues such as coordination between the military and private security, cost, and standards for obtaining suitable security providers.